Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2016

Formula One: Rival duo will show no merc-y

It won't be lights out, but victory for one driver may mean vital blow for the other

With two points separating the two Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the Singapore night race may well turn out to be a decisive moment in this year's drivers' championship.
With two points separating the two Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the Singapore night race may well turn out to be a decisive moment in this year's drivers' championship.PHOTO: REUTERS

Zika, Brexit, the global economic slowdown. Fans planning to skip this weekend's Formula One race in Singapore should have a rethink. For the battle for this year's drivers' championship starts here at Marina Bay.

For six months this season, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have been wheel to wheel, sometimes literally, in a constant tug of war for the championship lead.

After 14 races, only two points stand between them in the standings (Hamilton is on 250 points while Rosberg has 248). With such a narrow margin, the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix could well be a pivotal point in the title race.

The German has the edge on street circuits, winning in Melbourne, Sochi and Baku this year while the Briton triumphed in Monaco but Singapore has not been a particularly strong track for either driver.

Although Hamilton has won the night race here twice (2009 and 2014), his record has been tarnished by inconsistency, with three retirements in the last eight years. And while Rosberg's best result was a second-place finish in 2008, he has since failed to reach the podium, his best results being fourth in 2013 and 2015.







With a Did Not Finish each in the last two years, both drivers are no strangers to misfortune when it comes to taking on the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

The race under the stars will also be one placing the drivers under immense pressure, with one or both Mercedes men possibly finding themselves blind-sided as they continue on the final leg of their championship campaign.

With the European races done and dusted, Singapore marks the start of the last third of the season when the F1 circus heads to Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Japan) and the Americas (the United States, Mexico, Brazil) before finishing off the season in the heat of Abu Dhabi.

It is a leg in which Hamilton usually outperforms Rosberg. Hamilton has generally fared better in Malaysia, Japan and the US, while Rosberg tends to perform better in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Singapore and Mexico might serve as equalisers, or they may turn the tables in either driver's favour in their bid for the title.

Like any street circuit, the key to winning in Singapore is by starting from pole position - the last eight years have seen six pole sitters cruising to the finish line.

Mercedes have locked out the front row of most starting grids this season. And so far, Rosberg has had a higher pole conversion rate: Of six pole positions, four have been wins, compared to Hamilton's three wins from seven pole positions.

With so much at stake, F1 fans will be treated to a gritty and sometimes bitter fight between the team-mates all weekend. Rosberg and Hamilton fans in particular, are raring to see how their favourites will do as they enter the final stages of the season.

"(I'm) definitely hoping to see a good battle, but of course a clean one between the two," said Jacinta Wee, who has been a Rosberg fan since 2006. The lawyer has attended the Singapore GP annually and has even travelled to Malaysia, Spain, Germany, Australia and Azerbaijan to watch her hero race.

"Overtaking on this circuit isn't the easiest, so I do hope both heads are calm. I would like to see Nico win here, it's a circuit he hasn't won at before. I'd like him to regain the championship lead as well and keep it."

For Hamilton fan Tim Neale, the Singapore GP is worth the 13-hour flight from Britain.

"(I'm) very excited. A small part of me would like to see the first-ever wet Singapore GP," said the Briton, who will watch the race from the Pit Grandstand. "Although it might make for uncomfortable spectating, it can make for exciting racing. Lewis excels in the wet.

"(But) first and foremost, Lewis needs to get his start right - Lewis' starts this year have definitely been inconsistent.

"I'd then hope to see a close, exciting race with the lead constantly changing hands - before Lewis crosses the line 0.1 second in the lead."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Rival duo will show no merc-y'. Print Edition | Subscribe